Prenatal exposure to tobacco smoke is a major risk factor for the newborn, increasing morbidity and even mortality in the neonatal period but also beyond. As nicotine addiction is the factor preventing many women from smoking cessation during pregnancy, nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) has been suggested as a better alternative for the fetus. However, the safety of NRT has not been well documented, and animal studies have in fact pointed to nicotine per se as being responsible for a multitude of these detrimental effects. Nicotine interacts with endogenous acetylcholine receptors in the brain and lung, and exposure during development interferes with normal neurotransmitter function, thus evoking neurodevelopmental abnormalities by disrupting the timing of neurotrophic actions. As exposure to pure nicotine is quite uncommon in pregnant women, very little human data exist aside from the vast literature on prenatal exposure to tobacco smoke. The current review discusses recent findings in humans on effects on the newborn of prenatal exposure to pure nicotine and non-smoke tobacco. It also reviews the neuropharmacological properties of nicotine during gestation and findings in animal experiments that offer explanations on a cellular level for the pathogenesis of such prenatal drug exposure. It is concluded that as findings indicate that functional nAChRs are present very early in neuronal development, and that activation at this stage leads to apoptosis and mitotic abnormalities, a total abstinence from all forms of nicotine should be advised to pregnant women for the entirety of gestation.
Keywords: Newborn, perinatal, intrauterine, programming, developmental, NRT, snuff
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